Guilt & Shame: Something to Think About


“The more things a man is ashamed of, the more respectable he is.” – George Bernard Shaw

Shame and guilt are are tough and touchy subjects to write about.  Unpopular subjects to talk and think about for many.  Guilt and shame make us feel bad, and we are by nature pleasure-seeking and pain-avoiding creatures.  So who wants to voluntarily feel bad or ashamed about the choices they’ve made and the things they’ve done?

But what if guilt and shame–feeling these feelings and acknowledging them, and even examining them, instead of trying to avoid feeling them and burying them–might be a good thing? Especially in the long run.  What if?

One of the problems with guilt and shame is that so often when we feel guilty and ashamed it’s really not because of ourselves–it’s because we have a push-button recording going off in our heads–an unexamined automatic recording or voice telling us that we’re no good, or that we’re a failure or that we’re worthless, et cetera.  Maybe what we did was indeed wrong or heinous or bad, and maybe we should get tough with ourselves about it.  But it should be we who get tough with ourselves, not some archaic remnant voice of our parents or father- or mother-figure mercilessly ripping us a new one. That archaic voice is part of the unexamined life and needs to be examined, deconstructed, brought to light.  That voice is not nearly as important or relevant as what you really think about what you did and why you think that way.  The real question is ought you feel guilty or ashamed of what you have or have not done?  In the presence of your heroes or those you aspire to be like or to become, or even in the presence of God, ought you feel ashamed or guilty?  Have you let what’s best in you down?  Are you better than what you’re showing?

To me, that’s the essence of Shaw’s quote and the best possible reading or interpretation of it.  That’s the essence of beneficial guilt and “healthy shame.”

What do you think?

Guilt, Anger, Apologies: A True Warrior’s Perspective


This is a poem I found on another blog

No Apologieswritten by Miro

Sorry is a word that we
Should try our best to lose
It’s a concept warriors
Should rarely ever use

We say it with no thought of how
The word’s truly defined
So let me take a moment to
Look it up and remind:

Regrettable, deplorable
Sorrowful, grieved or sad
Wretched, poor and pitiful
Without use to be had

Warriors are never sorry
For a single thing
They understand the consequences
Of the words they fling

They put thought into what they say
And also what they do
And when some feelings get hurt they
Still hold fast and stay true

To what they do believe in
Even if feathers are ruffled
They don’t make up excuses and
Let their voices be muffled

The goal is to be confident
In all you do and say
All “I’m sorry” serves to do
Is shows that you will stray

“I’m sorry” is a “too late” phrase
It doesn’t change the past
Resolve to make the next time that
You say it be your last

Resolve to not do anything
That you will soon regret
Do nothing deplorable
That will leave you in debt

Save yourself from the sorrow
From being sad and grieved
If you said or did something
It’s because you believed

Be not wretched, pitiful
You’re much better than that
Differing opinions don’t
Have to end in combat

Agree to disagree and let
Each side have their own views
Never let another’s ego
Make you sing the blues

By saying that you’re sorry and
Indulging “sensitives”
Tip-toeing on eggshells is
Not how a warrior lives

Replace “sorry” with “deal with it”
Or a similar phrase
Like “get over yourself” and watch
All of the eyebrows raise

Because it’s in that moment where
The ego shows its face
Showing no regret is how
We put it in its place

It’s a nice poem, and certainly there are some positive ideas expressed in this poem. But there are also several negative or troubling ones as well.

And so I wrote a response to this poem delineating what I saw to be the weak points in what he (Miro) had put out there—

You do have a point, and there are many admirable things you say in your poem, but . . . In my opinion sorry certainly still has a place in social interactions. . . . Regret, remorse, redress . . . these can all be very important things. They are part and parcel of having a working conscience. If our conscience is barely working, then we say sorry, but we don’t change our ways. But steps 4 through 10 or so of “The Twelve Steps” address this—don’t just say you’re sorry, but make your actual amends for the bad things you’ve done. Fact of the matter is, there are plenty of people in the world who OUGHT to be sorry and who NEED to be sorry. Of course, they’re probably not warrior poets . . . BUT . . . they may stray across this blog and use your words (or similar words and ideas) to justify continuing their lack of conscience.

As a fellow warrior poet, I know that I still make mistakes, misread situations and other people. Sometimes I misfire, say the wrong thing, overshoot, et cetera. And apologizing in those situations is not superiority bowing down to mediocrity or the like. It’s a simple admission of the facts: I don’t know everything; I’m fallible, human; I am not inside the other person’s head; I’m not God; I’m not omniscient; I don’t know the whole of what it’s like to be the other person and to have experienced what he or she has experienced. And so all of that seems to dictate some level of humility, it seems to automatically require that I temper whatever wisdom and insight I may think I have with a little bit of “but I could be wrong.”

My question is why are you or anyone else so afraid of saying sorry when (or if?) you muck something up? You’re not perfect. No one is. You make mistakes. We all do. So deal with it. Deal with the fact that you make mistakes. And deal with it by having the guts or the conscience to offer a sincere apology.

My sense is that there’s this new age warrior movement afoot (probably started by Castenada) where people are equating being enlightened or awake or mature with never having to say they’re sorry. And that’s cow poop. My thought is not feeling guilty, not saying you’re sorry when you eff up doesn’t make you enlightened or a warrior poet, it makes you a sociopath.

Society doesn’t need more people who can’t or won’t say they’re sorry, what it needs is more people who are in touch with their own fallibility, and who say they’re sorry and then mean it—i.e. try their darndest to not make the same mistake again, learn from the past, and become a better person for having made their honest amends. There’s something very dignified and noble and truly warrior-like about actually taking a searching and fearless moral inventory, and then making one’s amends, and continuing to refine and develop one’s conscience in a healthy and ennobling way.

These are two posts I’ve written recently that touch on this—

https://theplacesthatscareyou.wordpress.com/2012/01/31/when-pop-psych-advice-goes-amuck/

http://fullcatastropheliving.wordpress.com/2012/01/31/the-two-preliminaries-necessary-to-train-in-in-order-to-awaken-and-truly-change-grow/

Personally I’d much prefer to live in a society where when people make a mistake or do wrong, or when they snap at each other because they get stressed out, they apologize sincerely for it, and try to take actual steps to lessen the likelihood of overheating and snapping or doing wrong again, than one where people hide out behind “deal with it” and never really doubt their own fallibility.

Kindest regards, and I look forward to reading more of your poems!

John

But Miro elected not to approve and post my comment. Perhaps he didn’t want to let it mar the love- & validation-fest he has going on at his blog, because apparently only praise and happy comments are acceptable.  But criticism is not accepted.  And something that challenges the warrior-poet’s prevailing “wisdom” is not permitted.  Miro only seems to want yes-men and yes-women commenting on his poems.  Miro-Miro on the wall, who’s the fairest Miro of them all . . .

A Little Background: Some More Considerations

I will be very up front and admit that I have very little tolerance for that variety of soft-minded new age pabulum where misguided wannabe-sages and errant advice-givers like Wayne Dyer and Paulo Coehlo are trying to convince people to give up guilt and anger.

This is an ongoing problem with the new-thought / new-age movement in general (and in my opinion it is due in part to a really bad misapplication of Buddhism). In new age and new thought and meditation and yoga and stress-reduction circles anger, guilt, and thinking all tend to be seen as the enemy—they are all under attack, so much so that the image or ideal that is being put forth is that an enlightened or evolved person doesn’t get angry, doesn’t feel guilt, and doesn’t think.

Which is all bullshit.

An enlightened person thinks, but thinks in a way that is markedly differently from how most people think. An enlightened person thinks in a more objective and less egocentric way. An enlightened (or evolved) person thinks in a more sincere and focused and deliberate way, not a discursive and distracted or monkey-minded way. An evolved person has learned how to think well—how to think very clearly, very insightfully, and how to cancel out his or her own biases or “ego”—in other words, how to examine oneself and one’s own deeper motivations.

An enlightened or evolved person hasn’t thrown the baby out with the bath water when it comes to thinking. An enlightened person has just changed the bath water—i.e. learned how to think more truthfully and less fallaciously and less egocentrically.

The same goes for anger and guilt.

Anger & Guilt

Anger is what we feel when someone may have violated our boundaries or done something wrong or unacceptable to us. Just because we feel anger doesn’t actually mean that someone has done something wrong to us or that our boundaries actually have been violated. But it does indicate that something HAS HAPPENED and that we need to look into it and get to the bottom of it.

The problem is that most people refuse to do the work of anger and to actually investigate why they are angry. Anger is a powerful emotion. And we are right to be afraid of it. Because most people when they are angry simply act out on that emotion. And sometimes people acting out on anger do horrible hideous things to others—road rage, go postal, say nasty hurtful things, et cetera.

And so Wayne Dyer and Paulo Coehlo and other new age wannabe gurus see this and they (admirably) want to help people stop themselves from hurting others when they’re in a fit of rage or anger. So clearly anger has to go. As if that’s the problem. When really the problem is something more involved—a lack of self-control, a lack of thinking, or a lot of sloppy thinking, etc. But instead of tackling these more difficult and complex issues, they give the people what they want—an all or nothing throw the baby out with the bath water solution. Anger is bad, stop being angry, and chastise those who get angry around you; become part of the new and higher consciousness that is on the verge of being born and get rid of such an antiquated and low-brow way of living; become pure and radiant and anger-free like me . . .

No one wants to be told to think more and that getting rid of anger is only to make a mistake in the opposite direction. That type of advice doesn’t sell many books to the lowest common denominator or to what’s worst in us.

And, as for guilt, guilt is what we (ought to) feel when we have done something wrong or unacceptable to another—when we have done something to another that we wouldn’t want done to us—that we would get angry about if it was done to us. Guilt is what we’re supposed to feel when we have treated another in a way that would make us angry if someone else treated us or our child that way.

But this isn’t what new age false prophets feed their lemmings. Instead they advise them to get rid of guilt altogether. Guilt is bad. Forgive yourself and move on. They don’t tell their fold, hey, if you’re feeling guilty, start examining that feeling; have you done to another something that you wouldn’t want done to yourself or that you would tolerate another person doing to your child? Or are you feeling guilty because you were mis-raised by an overbearing berating parent who didn’t love you or show you any warmth or tenderness, but who always seemed to criticize you for everything you did, and so you walk around as an adult with this dark “I’m not good enough” cloud hanging over your head that you interpret as “guilt”? These soft-minded false-gurus don’t offer much real insight or much real wisdom, they just dispense their all-or-nothing nonsense; get rid of guilt, stop feeling guilty and you’ll feel better. So what if you did wrong? So what if you cheated on your spouse because you were ungrateful, so what if you broke up the family and moved 2,000 miles away because you were unhappy and bored and wanted to start over and be true to you? So what? Stop feeling guilty about it; you’re doing the best you know how.

No, you’re not. You’re not doing your best. You have no real standards for yourself, you’ve lost your sense of right and wrong; but you’ve also lost your enthusiasm and passion (and so you’ve just been going through the motions), and so you are rightfully desperate to feel alive. But you don’t seem to care if you have to do wrong (or something you ought to feel guilty about) in order to feel more alive. But the problem is: the means matter! The journey matters just as much as the destination, if not more so. Because it’s in the means that we either really earn our worth (by really earning what we want in a legitimate way) or do grave injury to ourselves (by not living up to our values and what’s best in us).

So anger, guilt, thinking: these are all hot button topics for me. I see the current, I see what’s being dispensed, what’s being offered out there psychologically and spiritually on the open market—in books and blogs, et cetera—and it’s frightening! It’s Cheetos for the brain, Twinkies for the soul; it’s really bad and sloppy advice that’s being proffered.

And when you get down to the bottom of it—when you think about it—it’s also the same sort of stuff you find in a good portion of Miro’s “No Apologies” poem.

I will explain my thought processes and reactions in detail as I go—

No Apologies

Sorry is a word that we
Should try our best to lose
It’s a concept warriors
Should rarely ever use

I agree with this verse. A warrior should be leading a very conscious and deliberate life.

BUT, even a warrior is fallible, SO even a warrior may miss the mark occasionally and may need to apologize for doing so

We say it with no thought of how
The word’s truly defined
So let me take a moment to
Look it up and remind:

Regrettable, deplorable
Sorrowful, grieved or sad
Wretched, poor and pitiful
Without use to be had

“We” is a very tough word to use. Who is this “we” you are speaking of? I guarantee it doesn’t apply to me, because I am very thoughtful about how words are defined and used. The proof?—just read on, my friend . . .

Warriors are never sorry
For a single thing
They understand the consequences
Of the words they fling

This stanza is partly true, but also contains much that is false. For example, the use of the categorical “never’ is fallacious. I am a warrior, and I will say “sorry” when I muck something up.

And in this situation I lack a complete understanding of the words I fling (or post). And that was my point to Miro in my original comment on my thread that he refused (three times!) to post.

No one here is God; no one is omniscient or all-knowing; we’re all more or less in the dark; some more than others, some a bit less than others. But we’re all in the dark, living in the shadowlands. And that consideration alone ought to temper our arrogance and instead be a source of humility and openness and inquisitiveness for us.

But for some people it isn’t. Perhaps it frightens them and makes them even more desperate to pretend that they’re God and all-knowing. Perhaps their own shadow-side gets the better of them and makes them want to overcompensate for how lost and in the dark they feel. Perhaps they are so lacking in self-esteem that they simply can’t take the hit to the ego that admitting they’re wrong and offering a sincere apology entails.

I don’t know Miro. I only recently came across his blog. So I have no idea how the words I fling will affect him. I don’t know him well enough to know what his particular ego is like and how his particular defenses are arrayed.

I do, however, know the facts: that I read his “No Apologies” post, I saw how it could easily be misread, and I wrote a comment detailing that. He did not approve my comment. So I re-submitted it two days later. Again, he did not permit it to be posted. And so I tried once more. Again, he refused to post it.

So what does that tell me about Miro?—he signs his comments “peace & grace.” Based on the avoidant tendencies he’s displayed in regards to my (likely) very perceptive and valid and constructive criticisms, I’d say for Miro “peace” means the absence of conflict, not the ability to deal with conflict squarely and maturely.

This is the tagline to his blog:

Peace+strength+grace+intensity+resolve+patience+fortitude+selflessness+focus+balance+courage+love=wisdom

I’m not sure I see the courage or the strength or the wisdom or the selflessness is his approach here. I think he sacrificed his own vision and values by not posting my comments. How hard would it have been for him to have posted my comment and have written something along the lines of, “Interesting perspective, John; I didn’t notice the cracks in my own formulations; what I had in mind was . . . ”

But instead he chose to be avoidant; he chose the uncourageous path. He let what was weakest in him chart his course.

Whitman wrote:

There are those who teach only
the sweet lessons of peace and safety;
But I teach lessons of war and death to those I love,
That they readily meet invasions, when they come.

Those are the lessons I teach as well. And to myself most of all. Don’t just stand for something, John, stand for what is good AND right. Stand not just for what is true, but stand for real compassion and understanding as well; stand not just for kindness, but for clarity and wisdom as well.

It’s a difficult balance to attain.

Rumi wrote: “Unkindness from the wise is better than kindness from the ignorant.”

Criticism from someone wise is to be preferred over praise from someone lost and unwise.

If you truly want to grow and learn in life, then these ARE important considerations.

But if you just want to live a comfortable life and never really deal with your own ego, then simply avoid people who challenge you, avoid people who have a different point of view than you, and hide out immediately behind “live and let live” and “let’s agree to disagree” and some vague and self-serving (ego-serving) (mis-)definition of “respect.”

They put thought into what they say
And also what they do

I agree wholeheartedly. And I am exhibiting all of that thinkiness in this post.

And when some feelings get hurt they
Still hold fast and stay true

I don’t agree. It’s just not that simple. Sometimes the correct response is to hold fast and stay true; other times it is to apologize and say you’re sorry and learn from your mistakes. We’re all fallible; even warriors.

To what they do believe in
Even if feathers are ruffled
They don’t make up excuses and
Let their voices be muffled

And considering that you didn’t post my comments, I can only assume that your feelings were hurt. So what are you, Miro, holding fast and staying true to? You are running from a contrary opinion, you are running from a challenge, you are hiding from criticism.

So what ought I do? Not apologize? Stay true and hold fast? You’re feelings have clearly been hurt, Miro, what would you have me do? You voice seems to have been muffled (other than the one passive-aggressive bard you left in your comment to one of your worshippers); and you seem more than willing to try and muffle my voice, Miro, especially since I “deserve” it since I ruffled the feathers of the little man hiding behind his curtain . . .

The goal is to be confident
In all you do and say

I disagree: the goal is to be truthful, not confident. The ego wants to play its little game of confidence; the soul wants truth. And the truth is we are all fallible; none of us is omniscient. And that should lead to some real humility, some real openness, not arrogance and faux-confidence. The goal is NOT to be confident in all that you do in say; the goal is to be MINDFUL, to be as AWARE as possible, and to be OPEN to admitting when you’re wrong when you are indeed wrong.

The goal is to be confident
In all you do and say

If you’re truly confident in what you say and do, Miro, then surely a confident person like yourself, Miro, should have the confidence to post an opposing point of view.  When you refuse to post a well-thought out and perhaps very valid opposing point of view, it suggests, Miro, that you are not very confident.

All “I’m sorry” serves to do
Is shows that you will stray

“All”? More all-or-nothing categorical thinking. All just doesn’t apply here. It’s sloppy thinking and a sloppy word choice; and it makes what Miro is trying to say fallacious or false.

“I’m sorry” is a “too late” phrase
It doesn’t change the past
Resolve to make the next time that
You say it be your last

Cute; it rhymes. But is it true? Is what he’s saying in this stanza psychologically healthy and spiritually “evolved”? Is it what a real warrior would do or say?

Resolve to not do anything
That you will soon regret
Do nothing deplorable
That will leave you in debt

Great advice! This is what we all ought to aspire to! Think of what a lovely social world we would live in if more people thought like this BEFORE they acted. It would be a wonderful thing.

Save yourself from the sorrow
From being sad and grieved
If you said or did something
It’s because you believed

Be not wretched, pitiful
You’re much better than that
Differing opinions don’t
Have to end in combat

No, not at all, just silence and avoidance, right? That’s your example, Miro: the high road of avoidance, which is really the lowest road there be. You refused to post an opposing point of view and you tried to illegitimately sweep it under the carpet. How many other voices have you tried to muffle, you warrior poet, you? Run and hide is not a very effective or warrior-like strategy, Miro.

Agree to disagree and let
Each side have their own views

Just not on your site, right Miro?

Never let another’s ego
Make you sing the blues

And what about the truth? Would it be okay to let the truth make us sing the blues?

And agree to disagree? In my experience, that’s what the ego loves to put out there, because for the ego there really is no such thing as Truth, only lots and lots of “what’s true for me.” But for people who are really trying to “get over themselves” and truly be psychological and spiritual warriors, they have a different maxim that they live by: It’s not who is right but what’s right. It’s not all about this ego versus ego cage match. There’s truth, and there are points of view that are either more or less true, more or less in tune with the truth. Each side can have its views, but sometimes one or both sides’ views are wrong or false or fallacious.

By saying that you’re sorry and
Indulging “sensitivities”
Tip-toeing on eggshells is
Not how a warrior lives

Replace “sorry” with “deal with it”
Or a similar phrase
Like “get over yourself” and watch
All of the eyebrows raise.

Okay, so this rhymes. So what? The more important matter is: is it true? Is this psychologically healthy? Just because it rhymes doesn’t make it true. These are Miro’s words; these are the phrases he chose: “deal with it,” “get over yourself.” —Who honestly wants to live in a society where well-meaning people say that to each other and where this is the type of all-or-nothing advice that people live by? You don’t like what I have to say? Deal with it! You don’t like my poem? Get over yourself! How very Dalai Lama-like!

Replace “sorry” with “deal with it”
Or a similar phrase
Like “get over yourself” and watch
All of the eyebrows raise.

This stanza just seems kinda childish, kind of like someone’s ego wrote it. Maybe Miro needs to get over himself first and lead by example? Just a thought. . . . Put up my response, Miro, and deal with it!

Because it’s in that moment where
The ego shows its face
Showing no regret is how
We put it in its place

We put another’s ego in its place by not showing any regret? I don’t know, Miro. I’m not sure how much Miro knows about the ego. What I’ve learned is that what the ego most seems to hate is scrutiny, challenge, truth, light, exposure, criticism of ANY SORT.

What the ego wants is comfort and control and the comfort of surrounding itself with a bunch of mirrors who only reflect back to it what it wants to see of itself.

The ego doesn’t want to see itself as it is; what the ego wants is to see itself as it wants to be seen and as it dreams of being.

And so it banishes (or doesn’t post the comments of) anyone who doesn’t flatter it, who doesn’t fawn over its rhymes or sing its praises.

A real warrior is focused on truth and wisdom, not praise and positive feedback. The ego is not interested in truth and wisdom for their own sake, but only in relation to getting the ego more of what it craves—praise, flattery, positive mirroring, being told how awesome it is.

The ego doesn’t want reality, it wants distortion; the ego doesn’t want to be seen as it is and for what it is, it wants to be seen in a distorted and flattering way.

A false warrior is not open to challenge and is not open to criticism and contrary opinions and differing points of view.

But a true warrior is: he is open to challenge; he is open to criticism. A real warrior puts himself out there and offers the world a standing invitation to disprove his point of view, because a real warrior is dedicated to the truth and to reality at all costs, and not just the costs that his ego is willing to pony up.

And a real warrior does all of this because a real warrior knows it’s not about who’s right but what’s right.

A false warrior is an inwardly insecure and weak person who is pretending to be strong, a false self trying to prop itself up on positive feedback and by receiving positive blog comments. Sometimes it takes much more strength to say “I’m sorry, I was acting like an avoidant coward; I wasn’t living from what’s best in me” than it does to say “Deal with it.”

When Pop-Psych Advice Goes Amuck . . .


Dr. Wayne W. Dyer posted this little gem of pop-psych gone amuck advice yesterday on his Facebook page, and it has tallied up over 11,100 “Likes,” 500 comments, and 3,600 plus “Shares”!

Dr. Wayne W. Dyer
You can sit there forever, lamenting about how bad you’ve been, feeling guilty until you die, and not one tiny slice of that guilt will do anything to change a single thing in the past. Forgive yourself, then move on.

Like Unlike · Comment · Share · 11,191 Likes; 500 Comments; 3,610 Shares · 11 hours ago

 

And so I posted this (little gem) in response:

Garbage . . . such blithe all-or-nothing throw the baby out with bath-water advice. . . .

Pop quiz: who said/wrote the following:

“I don’t feel guilty for anything! I feel less guilty now than I’ve felt in any time in my life. About anything. And it’s not that I’ve forgotten anything, or else closed down part of my mind, or compartmentalized. I compartmentalize less now than I ever have. It’s just done! . . . Guilt . . . is this mechanism we use to control people. It’s an illusion. It’s a kind of social control mechanism—and it’s very unhealthy. It does terrible things to our bodies. It doesn’t solve anything, necessarily. It’s just a very gross technique we impose upon ourselves to control the people, groups of people. I guess I am in the enviable position of not having to deal with guilt. . . . I feel sorry for people who feel guilt. . . . But I don’t feel sorry for anyone who doesn’t feel guilty because the guilt doesn’t solve anything, really. It hurts you. You don’t need to feel badly. You don’t need to regret.”

A. Wayne Dyer
B. Paulo Coehlo
C. Neale Donald Walsch
D. Don Miguel Ruiz
E. Ted Bundy

The answer, of course, is E.

Lament and guilt are actually completely normal and appropriate responses when we have erred and done wrong and or “missed the mark.” And the correct next step after we have felt guilt or lament is to make our amends, take corrective restorative actions, and then to never do the bad or errant behavior again.

The solution isn’t to blithely “forgive ourselves” and get rid of that shred of sanity within us (our conscience) that is nagging us and reminding us that we could have done better.

And the soulution isn’t to write assinine and vague little blog posts advising people to glibly forgive themselves and move on.

Seriously, what were you thinking, Dr. Wayne W. Dyer?!?

Can you imagine a nation of people focused just on forgiving themselves (how self-centered! Where is the actual concern or compassion for the other person–the person who was wronged or hurt??) and just moving on??? You’ve forgotten the most important piece of advice!–To advise people to take corrective action and make their amends; and then NEVER do that wrong or errant thing again. And then guess what?–they’ll never have to feel guilty for doing that bad or errant thing again for the simple fact that they will have stopped doing that errant or wrong thing!

So how about instead of:

You can sit there forever, lamenting about how bad you’ve been, feeling guilty until you die, and not one tiny slice of that guilt will do anything to change a single thing in the past. Forgive yourself, then move on.

Perhaps something more psychologically sound and mature like:

You can sit there forever, lamenting about how bad you’ve been, feeling guilty until you die, and not one tiny slice of that guilt will do anything to change a single thing in the past. Forgive yourself, seek the other person’s forgiveness, take corrective restorative action and make your amends, and then move on and never do what it is you’re feeling guilty about ever again.

Guilt & Conscience


Pop Quiz:

Who wrote/said this?

1. When Abbot Antonio was asked if the road of sacrifice led to Heaven, he replied:

‘There are two such roads. The first is that of the man who mortifies his flesh and does penance because he believes that we are all damned. This man feels guilty and unworthy to live a happy life. He will never get anywhere because God does not inhabit guilt.

‘The second road is that of the man who knows that the world is not as perfect as we would all like it to be, but who nevertheless puts time and effort into improving the world around him.

‘In this case, the Divine Presence helps him all the time, and he will find Heaven.’

A. The Dalai Lama
B. Paulo Coehlo
C. Neale Donald Walsch
D. Don Miguel Ruiz
E. Ted Bundy

2. “Each human being has the right to seek out joy, joy being understood as something which makes one content—not necessarily that which makes others content. Each human being must keep alight within him the sacred flame of madness;—and must behave like a normal person. The only faults considered grave are the following: not respecting the rights of one’s neighbor, letting oneself be paralyzed by fear, feeling guilty, thinking one does not deserve the good and bad which occurs in life, and being a coward. We shall love our adversaries, but not make alliances with them. They are placed in our way to test our sword, and deserve the respect of our fight. We shall choose our adversaries, not the other way around. We hereby declare the end to the wall dividing the sacred from the profane: from now on, all is sacred.”

A. The Dalai Lama
B. Paulo Coehlo
C. Neale Donald Walsch
D. Don Miguel Ruiz
E. Ted Bundy

3. “I don’t feel guilty for anything! I feel less guilty now than I’ve felt in any time in my life. About anything. And it’s not that I’ve forgotten anything, or else closed down part of my mind, or compartmentalized. I compartmentalize less now than I ever have. It’s just done! . . . Guilt . . . is this mechanism we use to control people. It’s an illusion. It’s a kind of social control mechanism—and it’s very unhealthy. It does terrible things to our bodies. It doesn’t solve anything, necessarily. It’s just a very gross technique we impose upon ourselves to control the people, groups of people. I guess I am in the enviable position of not having to deal with guilt. . . . I feel sorry for people who feel guilt. . . . But I don’t feel sorry for anyone who doesn’t feel guilty because the guilt doesn’t solve anything, really. It hurts you. You don’t need to feel badly. You don’t need to regret.”

A. The Dalai Lama
B. Paulo Coehlo
C. Neale Donald Walsch
D. Don Miguel Ruiz
E. Ted Bundy

I’ll admit it: I have very little patience for new age blather. And the above selections from Paulo Coehlo (selections no. 1 and 2; selection no. 3 was from Ted Bundy but seems like it might as well have been something Coehlo may have written and that many of his readers would agree with) represent some of very worst in terms of the type of reprehensible soft-minded bullshit that a person in a position of influence and power is trying to spoon-fed to his flock—as well as anyone who is interested in becoming a new age psychopath. Coehlo’s new agey “love and light” soft-minded namby-pamby bullshit is bereft of anything resembling critical thinking or solid thinking. It’s emotional and immature and speaks equally to what’s worst and what’s best in us.

And that’s the problem.

When I look around—when I “stick my finger into existence,” in this case meaning when I browse books and the Internet, I don’t see people suffering from too much guilt or too much inappropriate guilt. What I see too often is people lacking guilt and lacking a conscience, and those around them (if not the person lacking guilt and a conscience as well) suffering because of it. Too often I see conscience being rationalized away and dismissed as a “societal control mechanism” (or some other counterculture gibberish) or as some sort of small-minded berating internalized voice of God or a parent, and people doing very selfish and exploitive—if not downright wrong, and even evil—things to others. All in the name of what? Immediate gratification? Giving into temptation? Their bucket list? Living life passionately and fully and never missing out on an experience or saying No to life? Not having to more closely examine themselves and their own peculiar unique psychopathology—“Each human being must keep alight within him the sacred flame of madness and must behave like a normal person”—Uhm, I believe that’s what Ted Bundy and most psychopaths try to do—try to behave like normal people and blend in.

No, when I look around, I don’t see people suffocating from too much guilt; I see people suffering because of too little guilt and too little conscience—too little goodness and too little honest self-examination and solid critical thinking. Too often I am coming across thoughts on guilt and conscience along the lines of Paulo Coehlo’s and Ted Bundy’s—the product of sloppy soft-minded thinking. Rarely am I coming across a book or an article or a web page where someone has done some solid non-“all or nothing” thinking about guilt, remorse, conscience.

Too often what I come across are all or nothing extremist type quotes and excerpts like this:

“The everyday practice is simply to develop a complete acceptance and openness to all situations and emotions, and to all people, experiencing everything totally, without mental reservations and blockages, so that one never withdraws or centralizes onto oneself.

This produces a tremendous energy, which is usually locked up in the process of mental evasion and generally running away from life experiences.” ~ Dilgo Kyentse Rinpoche

As if the cute little “ ~ ” makes the quote seem cozier and happier and less malignant. Read the quote; I mean really read it and scrutinize it and think on it. Anywhere in there is there anything actually useful and solid that can be used for making a practical decision? Does the quote offer anything more than emotional masturbation, a quick “this meshes with the other Buddhist/Yoga stuff I’m reading so now I can feel edified and good about myself” pick me up? A conscienceless psychopath is coming at me with a knife, according to the above quote I should apparently experience the psychopath’s knife totally and without reservations and mental blockages—without any notions of self-preservation or that what this crazy fucker with a knife is about to do to me and my body might actually be WRONG and that perhaps I should not try to resist and defend myself and kick him as hard as I can in the balls and then disarm him because these might be the products of my mental reservations and blockages. Perhaps by accepting everything totally and not running away from the experience of a malignant psychopath coming at me with a knife I will amass such tremendous inner energy that my assailant’s knife will vibrate right through me as I bliss out and off into a higher astral plane.

Come on. Really?!

I mean where’s the discernment? Where’s the less extreme, less all or nothing, less black and white—and hence more truly wise—version of the above quote? . . .

“The everyday practice is to heroically develop a greater acceptance and openness to the many situations that life presents us with and a greater tolerance for the emotions that arise within us when we are in these situations, allowing us to experience ourselves and the situation more fully and completely, without as many mental reservations and blockages, so that one withdraws or centralizes less into oneself and one’s ego and instead becomes more available to the situation and to responding more creatively and appropriately and wisely. Now this produces a tremendous clarity and energy, a clarity and energy which are usually lost and or blocked up in the process of mental evasion and generally running away from many intense and unprecedented experiences in life, many of which would operate for our benefit if we didn’t close down and run away or go through them asleep, rote, unfocused, numb, unaware, oblivious, on autopilot.”

Some people—far too many people in my opinion—have an insipid “all or nothing” “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” approach to dealing with guilt. Guilt is such a painful emotion, such a downer, such a white-hot emotion, that makes them feel so bad about themselves, devastated even, and they simply refuse to feel that way about themselves—inferior, inadequate, less than, not-OK, as if there’s something wrong with them or as if they’ve done something wrong and or bad and so now they’re not perfect because their fragile weak egos can’t handle feeling guilty.  And so they do what a weak orgnism does naturally—avoid evade annihilate deny that which seems too painful, too threatening to them, to their fragile ego, to their perfectionistic and unrealistic and fantasy and whitewashed version of themselves.  And so they treat guilt like a four-letter word, like something to be eradicated, as if guilt were a useless emotion, and they try to inoculate themselves to ever feeling guilty, to ever having to feel or deal with the pangs of their own conscience.

Guilt is anything but useless. Guilt can be the first step toward accepting responsibility for some error or wrongdoing, even evil, that we committed. It can be the first step toward contrition. It can be the first step towards getting outside of ourselves and really deciding if what we had done unto another is something we would have wished done unto us had the situation been reversed and we in their shows and they in ours.  Appropriate guilt is a blessing, not a curse; it’s the still small voice of our conscience—of what’s best in us—reaching up through the muck and trying to get our attention—“hey, you missed something; you’re better than this; you did something wrong, now face it, own up to it, take responsibility for it, clean up your mess, make your amends, set things right, repair the damage you’ve done, and don’t what you did wrong again.” Guilt, when it’s like this, is good; very good. it’s anything but a useless emotion. Rather it’s an emotion we need to learn how to not run from, but to listen to and deal with maturely and squarely and honestly.